Casey Affleck, much like big brother Ben, feels right at home when he's playing right at home. The Massachusetts born actor whipped out his trusty New England accent for the suspenseful "Gone Baby Gone" and the action packed "The Finest Hours" with moderate success. In this trip through Massachusetts, the full bodied roles - led by Affleck - result in a captivating character study.


Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (writer of "Gangs of New York", "Analyze This", "Analyze That") this deeply affecting film revolves around a small New England family that has eroded to the point of crumbling, but not yet completely dissolved.


Affleck is Lee, the property handyman of a few low rent apartments who is rude and crude to the tenants and gets into fistfights with random people when he goes out to drink. He doesn't make much and eschews even the flirty ovations of a female tenant.

The film establishes at the onset, that Lee was/is close with his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) who is his brother Joe's (Kyle Chandler) son. But not long into the film, Lee gets word that his brother has died and in the following days, he learns that Joe left Patrick to him in his will - as guardian.


What the film does so wonderfully is slowly unwrap the background as to why Lee doesn't want to take possession of his nephew even though they clearly get along well.


Through well timed flash backs we find out what happened to Lee's once happy home and why the townspeople whisper about him behind his back. It is revealed how his happy marriage disintegrated into a relationship in which his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) hates his very guts.

What happened to Patrick's mom (Gretchen Mol) and why isn't she a factor in raising her son. Why is Lee so uncomfortable in his hometown? Lonergan builds a story that places you in the position of being that nosy neighbor peeking over the fence into your neighbors home.


The story tugs at every emotion from subtle humor to Kleenex grabbing sorrow. Every father will identify with Patrick's efforts to get his uncle to "cover" for him as he tries to sexually "score" with two local gals Sharon (Mary Mallen) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov).


Divorced men will identify with Lee's quite restraint as his ex-wife berates hi every time she sees him. Williams screen time is relatively short, but like the great actress she is proving to be, she makes the most of her role. Her character is easily the most identifiable, especially for women in the audience.


But it is Affleck that will, once again get award season kudos. His portrayal of the nearly broken, everyday guy Lee is one of the most well rounded roles in the last

couple of years. He is vulnerable, heroic, smart, stupid, caring and thoughtless all at once. His complexity is deserving as it elicits both sympathy and disdain.


"Manchester by the Sea" is an acting and writing clinic with wonderfully nuanced characters, terrific acting and realistic drama that everyone can identify. This is easily one of the best films of the year, if not the best.   -- GEOFF BURTON